January 1, 2000 - Goddess in the Groove: Coming Around to the Family Bed: Lessons from the Peace Corps By Albania RPCV Melanie Wilson

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Albania: Peace Corps Albania : The Peace Corps in Albania: January 1, 2000 - Goddess in the Groove: Coming Around to the Family Bed: Lessons from the Peace Corps By Albania RPCV Melanie Wilson

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Coming Around to the Family Bed: Lessons from the Peace Corps By Albania RPCV Melanie Wilson

Coming Around to the Family Bed: Lessons from the Peace Corps By Albania RPCV Melanie Wilson

Coming Around to the Family Bed: Lessons from the Peace Corps

By Melanie Wilson

I treasure the presence of my child's warm body sleeping next to me. The most serene time of day is the moment I take my place beside her in our three-twin-mattresses-pushed-together family bed and look at her angelic toddler face. It is the only time she is peaceful. It is almost surreal seeing her like that when she spends all her waking hours pushing the envelope of her world, energy spinning out like a top in all directions. Her face is still, her limbs completely relaxed, round cheek pressed against the sheet puffing her cherub lips open, tender curls pressed against her neck. She is gone to another place. And I gaze at her, cannot resist an overwhelming urge to touch her, bring my face close, feel her breath to make sure - still I do this! - that she is breathing. It is a beautiful feeling.

Yet there was a time when the simple act of laying down next to my sleeping child - even more foreign, laying down to nurse her to sleep - was not just unusual but unthinkable. How did I get from there to here? How do we change to allow such things to become so intricately entwined in our way of being? Is it the overpowering biology of mothering? For many, yes. That is it wholly. The experience of childbearing in and of itself is enough to bring about a total metamorphosis. For others of us that is only partly the reason.

There is no doubt that I was entirely unprepared for this thing called mother love. A friend once said to me, "It's ridiculous, isn't it?" She was talking about the sense of otherworldliness that overtakes us when we look upon the faces of our beloved children. The world comes second. Above all, what matters is the nurturing of the tiny soul wrapped in silken loveliness called your baby.

I've held my child to my breast, kept her at my side day and night since she came into this world. But there was a time, not so many years ago, when I might have been a different mother altogether, when I might have felt there was no other place but a crib for my sleeping babe. When the warmth we all share together through the night would have eternally eluded me, because I would have considered it unacceptable to bring my child into my bed. What changed for me?

I joined the Peace Corps and went to live in Albania in 1994. I was welcomed with open arms by a family whom I still call my own. At the time, however, I was terrified, dreaded going to live in someone else's home, a family who might not speak more than a few words of my language. What would they eat and do in their spare time? How often would they shower (and so how often would I)? How would they feel about my coming and going? These were the worries that plagued me. I did not think about where I would sleep or where they would. That seemed a given in the myriad acceptances I was prepared to face. But you find that no matter how open your mind is, you are faced with challenges that could never have been foreseen. What you anticipate is going to bother you doesn't. It’s the things that never occurred to you that become daily issues; these are the lessons in acculturation.

I never thought about where or how I'd sleep. I knew I would have a bed of my own. Okay there was no bed, but there was a couch whose firm cushions could be laid out into a bed-like cot. I assumed there would be a place for everyone to sleep. Certainly in that large house there were rooms for everyone, even if the children had to share. Wrong again. My host sister asked to sleep in my room right away. I could see she expected this to be one long sleepover, but I lacked the grace, the social and language skills to decline. She took the couch across from me, and I considered that an adjustment, a sacrifice I had to make in the name of experience. I must have taken her room, I thought.

I soon learned the layout of the house, and I realize that there was really only one bedroom. There were, however, two living rooms, one formal, and one informal. The room I was given was the parlor for receiving guests. “Where do these children usually sleep?” I wondered. “Where is the brother, age nine, sleeping now?” Naturally, he was in Mom and Dad's room on the floor. I was appalled. My first thought was “How do they make love? Don't they need their privacy?” Suddenly, my sacrifice of privacy didn't loom so large.

This was not a situation that any family member was uncomfortable with. These children had been sleeping with or near their parents for years. I learned after some time that it was actually a very large house on average. There were many families who slept four to a bed, six, eight or even more to a room. So why did this family who had an extra room use it as a sitting room instead of a bedroom? The answer to that question was an important lesson. I learned something about their priorities, and personal space was not among them. Relationships ranked high, especially those with family and friends. Why not sleep together at night and have a special room for entertaining guests in the day? No one was troubled by the sleeping arrangements besides me.

I watched this family's children - one verging on adolescence, the other resisting her move toward young womanhood - both filled with the utmost love and respect for their parents. I had to reflect on how entirely different they were from their American counterparts. This is not unusual among Albanian families, this close connection. I wanted to know: how does one have children like this? How do we avoid the angst and rebellion that is so much a part of teen life in the U.S.?

No, I am not going to tell you that the family bed is the panacea, the magic that brings peace and love into a family, nor that all pre-teenagers should be sleeping in their parents’ room. But I will say that adopting the family bed early on is one step in the right direction. It is one of many things that loving families can do to foster closeness, security and warmth when their children are little, creating a bond that may continue into adolescence. I met many Albanian parents with outspoken, yet respectful, loyal and always loving young people. All family members accept, even revel in, the closeness that their limited space brings them.

I realized that sectioning off different parts of the family—in the U.S., parents from children--is purely cultural, and not necessarily the best way. I am not denying a husband and wife’s need for privacy and intimacy; I am simply saying that there are other ways to achieve those goals than separating from our children at night. It might just do our families good to truly see the unit as a whole, awake and asleep, rather than individuals who must separate and sleep alone as soon as possible, who value privacy above togetherness.

I came to accept many ways of being with children that differed from my own experience growing up in the U.S., practices and ideas that I believe had an effect on the kind of relationship that these young people had with their parents. Sleeping close together was just one of these things. It is not the final answer, but it is a marvelous beginning.

Copyright 2000 Melanie Wilson

Melanie is the owner/editor of www.vegetarianbaby.com

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Story Source: Goddess in the Groove

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mongolia; Vegetarian; COS - Albania; COS - PNG



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